More than 30 states have taken steps to ease laws criminalizing marijuana use. In some cases, cannabis has been decriminalized. Other states have established rules and guidelines for making medical marijuana available to patients, while a few locations either have or are considering legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Texas has not yet taken steps towards the legalization of medical marijuana, although there are efforts to decriminalize going on in several states.
Unfortunately, even as public attitudes have shifted and laws have become more lax, research has not advanced significantly to determine the risks that exist due to stoned drivers. A personal injury lawyer knows that when a person has consumed cannabis products, he or she has a delayed reaction time and impaired cognitive function. However, it is unclear to what extent marijuana use interferes with driving ability and states are more uncertain about how to regulate marijuana when driving as compared with alcohol.
Legalization of Marijuana Creates Concerns
Recently, USA Today published an article indicating that the AAA director of traffic safety, research and advocacy is very concerned about the ongoing move towards legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana. His concern is that we're essentially "painting the plane as we're flying it," which means we are moving forward with making the drug legal without fully knowing about its effects or about how to regulate safety.
By the time states began to pass laws regulating the use of alcohol while driving, the impact of alcohol was well known. There was a wide body of research that showed how varying levels of alcohol impairment impacted function and increased crash risk. There is no such research when it comes to marijuana impaired driving.
The research that has been done on marijuana has had mixed results. For example, some studies have shown that drivers who have consumed THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) are actually less aggressive behind the wheel and drive more slowly than drivers who are sober. This could result in a decreased collision risk. Yet, by contrast, marijuana use has been demonstrated to reduce the ability to make decisions and to adversely impact peripheral vision. If marijuana use is mixed with consumption of alcohol, the THC can also act as a stimulate and exacerbate impairment.
It is dangerous to not fully understand the impact of marijuana on drivers, because more motorists than ever are driving after consuming cannabis products. A 2007 roadside survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed around 8.6 percent of motorists tested positive for marijuana. This occurred even before the widespread move towards relaxing laws on cannabis. Researchers from Columbia found that marijuana was a factor in around 12 percent of deadly crashes in 2010, up from just four percent in 1999.
While marijuana legalization may be good for those who need medical help that the drug can provide, Texas is right to be cautious on moving forward. Drivers also need to be aware of the added risks on the roads and make informed choices when it comes to stoned driving.
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